How do you get to (___)?

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” While that’s no doubt true, there are plenty of misconceptions about other future dreams and plans. JMU graduate Matt Wallace (’13) learned that aspiring to medical school has its own share of misconceptions. In today’s post, Matt shares his Madison Experience, how he changed his mind along the way, and some great wisdom he earned about how to reach your goals. Readers of this blog will recognize Matt. In an earlier post, we featured his experience as a medical scribe at a local hospital. As you read about Matt today, he’s steeped in his first year of medical school at Virginia Commonwealth University.

How to get to med school

by Matt Wallace (’12)

Matt Wallace ('12)

Matt Wallace (’12)

Entering high school I knew I wanted to go into medicine, and my decision was solidified after taking AP Biology at Loudoun Valley. I began researching colleges my junior year in high school and met with my guidance counselor to further explore the colleges and universities I was interested in attending. Knowing I wanted to go into medicine, I started looking for schools with the misconceived notion that to be accepted into medical school, one should attend a university with an associated medical school. When touring colleges as a prospective student, I was really impressed with everything JMU had to offer. The student involvement, friendly atmosphere, Honors Program, undergraduate research, numerous travel abroad opportunities, and even the food all stood out to me. Ultimately, my top three schools for undergrad were JMU, Emory, and UVa. When all was said and done, I was admitted to JMU and Emory. As an in-state student, JMU provided the best educational opportunity with an affordable cost of attendance.

When I arrived at JMU, I knew I wanted to get involved early so I joined the Honor Council and Student Government Association. I started contacting professors in the Biology Department to express interest in conducting research. Shortly thereafter, I ended up in the neuroscience lab of Dr. Mark Gabriele. The main research focus of the Gabriele lab is to gain a better understanding of how the auditory system develops. The lab focused on the investigation of various signaling proteins that are responsible for guiding neurons to form proper auditory circuitry to encode our sense of hearing. My freshman year at JMU was an outstanding experience. However, I still had the misconceived notion that in order to be accepted into medical school, I had to go to a university with a medical school. As a result, I applied to UVa as a transfer student my freshman year and was accepted. I attended summer session there and enjoyed being a student at UVa. However, I soon determined that the opportunities to conduct undergraduate research at a high level of involvement were not what I had experienced at JMU. At many major research institutions, undergraduates are not the focus — in terms of research. Many of the opportunities are reserved for graduate level students. Undergrads often work under a graduate student and rarely have the opportunity to conduct independent research, present at conferences, or submit a first-author publication. After speaking with admissions departments at medical schools, it was glaringly clear that my original thought of having to attend a university with a medical school to maximize my chances of being accepted was ill-founded. JMU was home to me and I returned to complete my undergraduate degree here and it was by far the best decision I’ve ever made.

The amount of time faculty invest in you at JMU was unparalleled compared to faculty at other universities. As a student, my professors went above and beyond in terms of providing the resources necessary for success. In my experience, my professors were engaged and passionate about not only research, but in teaching undergraduate students. Professors are willing to spend the extra time with you to ensure you understand the material. Many have an open door policy where you can ask questions if you’re having difficulty grasping a concept.

Students here at JMU receive the benefit of having access to professors who are highly interested in conducting research with undergraduates at a high level. Undergraduates here travel to present their research at national and international conferences.  Conferences where the majority — if not all the presenters are graduate students or already possess terminal degrees. Our lab has traveled to present our research across the country at cities including: San Diego, New Orleans, Chicago, and Baltimore. I’ve been able to publish multiple publications with my undergraduate peers in the research lab. These types of opportunities are truly hard to find at other institutions and makes JMU extremely special in this regard.

If research isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other opportunities to get involved. During my time as a student, I was a part of the Honor Council Executive Board and the Student Government Association. Throughout my undergraduate career, I was a Teaching Assistant, Pre-Professional Health Ambassador, volunteered at various community organizations, and worked part-time in the Emergency Department at Rockingham Memorial Hospital. There’s something for everyone to become involved in and passionate about at JMU. Another unique feature of JMU: students are well-rounded and extremely involved.

Something that I wish I understood as a high school student that I do now: When selecting an institution, it is important to determine the right “fit” for you. By fit I mean ensuring you attend a school that provides the most interesting opportunities to you, and a school that gives you the best chances to succeed in the future. The opportunities I’ve had at JMU set me up for success and helped me achieve my goal of being accepted into medical schools. No matter where you choose to go to school, it is extremely important to select an undergrad where you’ll enjoy your time, be happy at, and succeed after graduating four years from now — for me, that school was JMU.

To get a closer look at JMU’s myriad opportunities for undergraduate research, search  You’ll find opportunities in nearly every field from the arts through the sciences.


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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